Controversial doctor Michelle Ananda-Rajah will represent the Labor Party in the battle for the seat of Higgins, in Melbourne’s inner east, at the next federal election — despite growing criticism of the candidate’s negative public comments about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ananda-Rajah appeared on a vaccination-focused episode of the ABC’s Q+A program in February, alongside expert panellists Nick Coatsworth, Sharon Lewin and Tony Blakely.

“I think there is some merit, actually, in having a slightly delayed [vaccine] rollout for Australia,” Ananda-Rajah said on Q+A, “because, you know, we’re seeing interesting data coming out from the field, particularly in South Africa […] the vaccine failed in terms of its efficacy.” Ananda-Rajah then referred to a YouTube video, which she did not name, that supposedly proved a loss of potency in the AstraZeneca vaccine against a variant strain of the virus.

Ananda-Rajah stated that onshore manufacturing of vaccine “is a real bonus for Australia,” but suggested that Australia could manufacture the Novavax vaccine instead of AstraZeneca, which she claimed had lower efficacy.

“We’re literally [sic] sitting ducks,” Ananda-Rajah said. “We need to have the most efficacious vaccines, particularly in the face of these variants, which are now, you know, emerging in really high-volume infectious regions.”

She claimed “there is every possibility that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be rolled out to 10 million adults and we may still end up being vulnerable when we relax our international borders and allow people in. Because the variants will come in. And, you know, I feel that is a population level experiment which has high stakes attached to it. And, personally, I’m not comfortable with that approach at all.”

Ananda-Rajah questioned assertions that the AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘highly effective’ and argued that the public was “not being levelled with” about the differences between the vaccines. “There is a highly effective vaccine in Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax, and there is a moderately efficacious vaccine in AstraZeneca,” she said. Her AstraZeneca scepticism repeatedly attracted disagreement from her fellow panellists.

Just a month ago, Ananda-Rajah appeared on Q+A again to spruik the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — but not AstraZeneca. Any affiliation Ananda-Rajah had with the Labor Party was not disclosed by the ABC.

In a statement “regarding recent media assertions,” the Labor candidate claimed that her comments on the AstraZeneca vaccine “were entirely in line with available evidence” and then attempted to deflect blame for vaccine hesitancy on to the federal government.

Ananda-Rajah, who had already been preselected, announced her candidacy for Higgins yesterday with the support of Josh Burns and Richard Marles.

Higgins, which is currently represented by Liberal MP Katie Allen, has never been won by Labor, although the party made a significant gain in the electorate two years ago.